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Building Career Ladders with the Help of a Diverse Team

Career Path
Cross-functional collaboration
Delegate
Feedback
Managing Expectations

21 May, 2019

Alex Kroman, SVP of Engineering at New Relic, depicts an inspiring tale of how a cross-functional group of diverse ideas and opinions came together to create a well-defined, formal career ladder.

Problem

After we moved to a pay equity system, we realized that we needed a formal career ladder to align with our pay levels. The only way to get a raise at New Relic is to progressing to the next level. That process needed to be clear, transparent and understandable to everyone. Having a very bottom-up culture here, it didn't feel right to have myself and other senior engineering leaders get together to write the career ladders and then process them down.

Actions taken

  • We sent out an email to the entire organization announcing that we would be implementing career ladders across all of our different disciplines throughout the product organization. Our interests were made clear that we wanted to have them be written by a diverse cohort. To garner a solid working group, we asked employees to provide names of people they thought would be ideal candidates for this type of involvement.
  • Upon receiving hundreds of responses, we narrowed the names down to a 20-person working group, sending those names back out by email.
  • A one day off-site collaborative session was held where the team put together rough drafts of career ladders across all disciplines. We made available to them, original career ladders from New Relic, as well as, some others we had gathered from well-structured organizations. In this session, we facilitated a brainstorming discussion where we agreed on the categories that were important for each of the roles. Then, we established working sub-groups that developed the criteria and behaviors that were needed at each level.
  • After gathering all the information from the offsite, we put it into Google Docs where it was further revised.
  • Then, we sent the career ladder out to a much wider group where we received a lot of comments and feedback that we applied to our original ladder.
  • Finally, we published the career ladders and gave the responsibility of training all individual contributors on these new terms to that original team of 20 who had created it. They put together a presentation as part of all-hands meeting and then offered deeper dives into the career ladder in smaller-group formats.

Lessons learned

  • I was happy with the outcome of this collaborative, organization-wide pursuit. Engineers liked the new ladders and having one that our managers can talk to during performance reviews and one-on-one's has been productive and something I recommend.
  • Trying to bring in a wide group of people to work on the career ladder is a much better approach than having high-level executives doing the work. It created a lot more buy-in from the team knowing that it wasn't just something one or two leaders worked on, but rather created by a cross-functional group that was able to address many different perspectives.
  • Having the group also be responsible for training the managers was really important. Likewise, having our reviews reflect progress on the career ladder, while reinforcing that during the review process, was also another important aspect of it.

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